Open House Melbourne, which happens the last weekend of July, was for me more of a missed opportunity this year.  Perhaps it was the disappointment of my birthday, but I was in a bit of a funk that weekend and could barely get myself up and away from the heater and my book and into the outdoors.  As a result, I procrastinated and only made it for the last few hours on Sunday.

To be fair to myself, Open House Melbourne is perhaps a bit difficult to get into as a visitor.  I have been here for eight months and myself found it an effort to get excited about.  The premise is that private areas of buildings around Melbourne are open to the public for one weekend a year.  In its sixth year, Open House Melbourne boasted 111 buildings.  

The problem is that choosing which ones to peak inside is daunting.  By its nature, you don’t really know what you will see and not having grown up around the buildings a visitor lacks the inquisitive desire to get inside particular structures.  The Open House Melbourne website does little to help guide one as there is no real list of buildings but rather a map where you click on markers to see the open times and instructions.

None of this is to say Open House Melbourne is an event that is not worth seeing.  On the contrary, it was a delight.  All it means is that a visitor needs to get on the ground and walking to really sink their teeth into the event.  I found that as I waited in line you would get tips from other participants as to particularly interesting venues.

For my part, I only managed to see three buildings this year.

171 Collins Street:  Absolutely gorgeous.  I stumbled upon this building as I was walking into my office to drop off my gym clothes.  I noticed that there was a long line of people and at the front the easily identifiable Open House Melbourne volunteers.  Of course, I got into into the queue.Tours were being led by Bates Smart architects, the firm responsible for the building. 171 Collins is like two buildings in one.  The tower facing Collins Street is fronted by the old Mayfair Building, originally a turn of the century theatre in Melbourne.  After walking through the Mayfair doors, one enters a giant glass atrium, which allows light to reach the building’s neighbors who actually have windows in their buildings into what is now the atrium of 171 Collins.  The tower facing Flinders Lane is a modern marvel that had to be designed to meet the aesthetic needs of St. Paul’s cathedral, for which 171 Collins is a backdrop.  The building is the third PCA Premium Grade building in Melbourne and the first such building to be built in over 20 years.  The Bates Architects guide explained some of the fascinating sustainability features, such as smart elevators that load balance trips.  BHP Billiton will be 171 Collins’ anchor tenant.  The Sydney Morning Herald has a nice write up on the project with a diagram of the building here.

St. Michael’s Uniting Church:  After the line for 171 Collins, there wasn’t much time left.  A couple I met while waiting had spoken very highly of the two churches across the street.  Every morning I walk by these churches on my way to work, so my interest was piqued and I headed over.  St. Michael’s was first.  The building was designed in the 1860s by Joseph Reed, who also designed the Melbourne Town Hall and Royal Exhibition Building.  It features a number of beautiful stained glass windows and a sloping sanctuary that is highly distinctive.  Visitors were able to roam freely around the building, including a rear hallway where members’ ashes were interred.  Despite its long history, the teachings appear to have stirred some controversy in recent years and is described by Wikipedia as ” well known as a centre of liberal theology and political radicalism”.

Scots’ Church: Across from St. Michael’s is the Scots’ Church, the first church in Melbourne.  The services of the church can be traced back to 1837, but the building seen today was opened in 1874.  As I was researching the church after my visit, I was surprised to learn that the congregation is Presbyterian—the denomination in which I was raised. According to the Church’s website, the Gothic style of the building is unusual for a Presbyterian church.  But I have to say that a number of the features were quite reminiscent of the church I grew up in.  I was delighted upon entering to find that a concert on the church’s enormous organ was underway.  It turns out, that the organ at the Scots’ Church was one of the first in Presbyterian churches worldwide as the introduction of them into services was initially opposed.

In short, while I enjoyed my Open House Melbourne experience, I wish that I had pulled things together a bit more and planned a more ambitious tour.  For example, had I known more I would have loved to make it to the Harry Brookes Allen Museum of Anatomy and Pathology, which is usually only accessible to medical students of the University of Melbourne and where you can see death-masks dating back to the 1800s (including Ned Kelly‘s). I would have also loved to catch the tunnels at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Parkville.

Tips

  • Must see for architectural buffs, design gurus and engineering nerds.
  • Features both contemporary and historic buildings, some with tours by the designers.
  • Most buildings are available on a first-come first-serve basis.  Though some require tours, for which one has to wait in line.  A limited number of tours are allocated by ballot via the Open House Melbourne website.
  • Not all buildings allow photos (e.g. 171 Collins).
  • Dress warm.  Be ready for rain.  And get out there.

Open House Melbourne (171 Collins - Front)

171 Collins Street—Collins Street Entrance

Open House Melbourne (171 Collins - Rear Upwards View)

171 Collins Street—Flinders Lane Entrance

Open House Melbourne (171 Collins - Rear View)

171 Collins Street—Flinders Lane Entrance

Open House Melbourne (View of St. Paul's Cathedral from 171 Collins)

View of St. Paul’s Cathedral from 171 Collins Street

Open House Melbourne (St. Michael's - Sanctuary Floors)

St. Michael’s Uniting Church

Open House Melbourne (St. Michael's - Sanctuary)

St. Michael’s Uniting Church

Open House Melbourne (St. Michael's - Stained Glass)

St. Michael’s Uniting Church

Open House Melbourne (St. Micheal's - Stairwell)

St. Michael’s Uniting Church

Open House Melbourne (St. Michael's - Side Hallway)

St. Michael’s Uniting Church

Open House Melbourne (Scots' Church)

Scots’ Church